The Oldest Profession (Eclipse Theatre Company – Worthington, OH)

Photo: Greg Smith – (left to right) Kathy Sturm (Edna), Terry Sullivan (Lillian), Linda Browning (Mae), Tobi Gerber (Vera), and Linda Goodwin (Ursula)

Where does one begin when starting a new theatre company? Should one start with a modern classic by Tennessee Williams, something by Shaw or Ibsen, perhaps a well-known musical? Or how about opening with something off the beaten path, something interesting and fresh that the area has likely never seen before. Eclipse Theatre Company’s premiere production is of Paula Vogel’s The Oldest Profession, a quirky and entertaining show with plenty of laughter and heart, definitely a standard deviation from anything else currently being performed in or around Columbus.

 

Photo: Mel Buehl – (left to right) Linda Goodwin (Ursula), Terry Sullivan (Lillian), Tobi Gerber (Vera), Linda Browning (Mae), and Kathy Sturm (Edna)
 

The Oldest Profession is about a group of aging prostitutes struggling to remain relevant in New York, a city that is beginning to change at the dawn of the 1980s. These five women have been in “the life” for over fifty years, harkening back to the days of Prohibition in the late 1920s, which would put most of them in their seventies (or older). These women may look like quaint, blinged-out grandmas (whatever you do, don’t call them that!) with their overstuffed hair and painted faces, but they are rather refined ladies for hire with an ever dwindling clientele. These aren’t your typical streetwalkers turning tricks in alleys for drugs; these are women who want to bring joy to their gentlemen callers while supporting themselves. The changing economics of the time are reflected in how they live their lives and run their business, demonstrating how living in a city teetering on the brink of bankruptcy effects everyone. The program has a quaint glossary of terms printed on the back along with a short essay putting the story into historical context. I’m not sure anyone could misinterpret the meaning behind “dip his wick,” though some of the French euphemisms were helpful to know. Still, I don’t think “poontang” means hooker; I’m pretty sure it means any piece of female action one can get.

 

Photo: Greg Smith – (left to right) Kathy Sturm (Edna) and Linda Browning (Mae)
 
Standouts in the cast are Kathy Sturm as Edna, the big earner of the group with heels to match; Linda Goodwin as Ursula, the Republican hooker, as cold as one would expect; and Terry Sullivan as Lillian, the theatre cat, always up for a good time out among the footlights. Linda Browning as Mae, the madam, has some strong moments, particularly one in which she defends her turf against some new trade. Tobi Gerber as Vera, the somewhat dim and gullible member of the group, has one of the best lines in the piece: “I’m gonna scratch her snatch!” The actresses interact well with each other, and if there are a few pregnant pauses here and there or a few false starts with their line delivery, it all somehow works. These are elderly women the performers are playing after all, though I was surprised at how youthful they each appeared sans wig and heavy makeup after the performance.

 

Photo: Mel Buehl – (left to right) Linda Goodwin (Ursula), Terry Sullivan (Lillian), Tobi Gerber (Vera), and Kathy Sturm (Edna)
 
A nice element of the rather unconventional performance space Eclipse Theatre Company has secured is how intimate it all feels. The area is draped into a square, and there are only fifty seats located directly in front and to the left and right of the action. There isn’t a bad seat to be had, and the acoustics are perfect for allowing each word to be heard with little to no apparent amplification. Greg Smith’s set consists of a bench in front of a black iron gate bridged by stone pillars and streetlights with a mostly full trash bin off to the side and a concrete floor complete with some gum residue; what more is needed to illustrate the perimeter of a park? Mr. Smith also directs this piece, inserting an intermission about forty-five minutes into the play where it was designed to be performed in one continuous 105-minute stretch. The break occurs at a decent enough spot save for making the second act a quarter hour longer than the first, but it isn’t a problem. These ladies are worth the time.

 

Photo: Mel Buehl – (left to right) Linda Goodwin (Ursula), Terry Sullivan (Lillian), Tobi Gerber (Vera), and Linda Browning (Mae)
 

The Oldest Profession is laugh-out-loud funny as these feisty old women argue, debate, and talk business about things women a third of their age would probably be too embarrassed to discuss. It’s also terribly poignant as these women one by one pass on, the real heartbreak is discovering which will be the one who’s left behind. This is an R-rated show to be sure, but it isn’t as expletive-laden as one might expect. These are ladies, after all, the last vestiges of a bygone era that ended during the ’80s when Ronald Reagan was president and New York City began its transformation into the tourist-friendly (though arguably character-less) landmark it is today.

*** out of ****

The Oldest Profession continues through May 1st at 670 Lakeview Plaza Blvd, Suite F, Worthington (less than 30 minutes from downtown Columbus), and more information can be found at http://eclipsetheatrecompany.org/

   

   
  
 

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Footloose (Dare to Defy Productions – Dayton, OH)

There’s nothing better than seeing a show filled with familiar music that strikes a chord. It’s even better when it is so joyously performed by a large cast in a grand performance space like the Victoria Theatre. Dare to Defy Productions presentation of Footloose is such a show, a surprisingly innocent and family friendly experience playing a limited run of just one weekend in downtown Dayton.

Footloose is based on the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon about a teenager from a broken home moving from Chicago to the tiny town of Bomont where dancing (and any fun) are illegal; it has been adapted by screenwriter Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie for the stage, opening on Broadway in 1998 where it ran for a year and a half. Footloose is often classified as a movie musical because of the hit soundtrack (like Flashdance), but no characters actually sing in it; the music underscores montages or is source music in scenes. In transplanting the film to the stage, several songs with music by other writers (Jim Steinman, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, and Eric Carmen) have been retained with additional songs written by Mr. Pitchford and Tom Snow. You’ll still hear all the big songs from the film (including “Footloose”, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, “Almost Paradise”, and “Holding Out for a Hero”), but now they are assigned to characters to sing. Amazingly enough, it works quite well, with only a few of the new songs being unnecessary and poor in comparison.

 

Photo: Sydney Fleming – Eric Thompson (Ren McCormack)
 
Eric Thompson plays Ren McCormack, the Kevin Bacon role in the movie, and he is a bit of inspired casting. Mr. Thompson sings beautifully but retains the “rough around the edges” quality perfect for the character. So much of the show rides on his shoulders as the boy who “can’t stand still” (one of the better new songs written for the play), and he comes off as likable and quickly present in a way that elevates every scene of which he is a part.

 

Photo: Sydney Fleming – Abby Cress (Ariel Moore)
 
Abby Cress is Ariel Moore, the rebellious preacher’s daughter who sets her sights on Ren. Ms. Cress seems to be miscast until she sings “Holding Out for a Hero”; with her sweetly strong singing voice taking on such a challenging pop anthem with no visible effort, she emerges as probably one of the few actresses in the area that can do the part justice and not just play the wildcat. Ms. Cress and Mr. Thompson have chemistry as well, which enhances the storytelling and helps it come off as less corny.

 

Photo: Sydney Fleming – Eric Thompson (Ren McCormack) & Abby Cress (Ariel Moore)
 
Other standouts in the cast are David Shough as Reverend Moore, Skyler McNeely as Willard (Ren’s best buddy), and Esther Hyland as Ethel McCormack (Ren’s mother). Mr. Shough plays Ariel’s father and the town leader as more than just an overbearing killjoy; he genuinely believes he is doing what is righteous and best, and Mr. Shough gently brings that out in scenes where he reflects on the passing of his son. Mr. McNeely is spot-on in his comic timing as Willard, always ready with an expression to punctuate a moment and elicit laughter. Ms. Hyland in all likelihood is probably too young to play Ren’s mother, but she makes the most of her underwritten part and reveals her melodious singing voice in “Learning to Be Silent”; she makes an impression in a part that doesn’t give her a lot to do.

Director Craig Smith and choreographer Jessica Tate work well at creating and sustaining so much energy on the stage with quite a large ensemble. The large dance sequences are especially impressive and invigorating, and the cast seems to be having such a good time; their joy is infectious. Though I doubt many of the players were even born in the 1980s, their costumes are humorously accurate to the period, complete with cuffed acid wash jeans, Izod lizards, and popped collars. The cast is credited with the costumes along with Amy Elder Dakin, Olivia Dakin, and Mackensie King, a collaborative effort that surely involved many an excavated closet and trips to thrift stores. Appropriate credit is also due to the people behind the teased hair and glossy makeup as it also helps evoke prime 1984.

 

Photo: Sydney Fleming – Eric Thompson (Ren McCormack)
 

Footloose isn’t a great show, but it doesn’t have to be in order to be entertaining. Aside from having a few new songs assigned to characters that should have remained non-singing parts, Footloose is nostalgic in the best possible way. Dare to Defy’s production is solid and a lot of fun; the perfect cherry on the top of this Thanksgiving holiday.

*** out of ****

Footloose continues through to November 28th in the Victoria Theatre at 138 North Main Street in Dayton (a little over an hour outside Columbus), and more information can be found at http://www.d2defy.com/